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4 Ways to Engage Workers Through Corporate Stewardship

Volunteer opportunities can boost employee morale and grow workers' skills

A group of people standing around a box of food.

Employer-sponsored corporate stewardship programs—which fall under the corporate social responsibility or philanthropy umbrella—are not only a good way to help employees serve their communities, but they also help employees feel good about their work and employers. At the same time, volunteering opportunities can allow employees to develop skills and gain leadership experience.

Here are four ways to begin and manage corporate stewardship programs.

1. Make Time

Employers can start by making it easy for employees to take part in corporate stewardship activities. In some cases, this means letting employees use their paid time off (PTO) for these programs. However, providing additional PTO that workers can use only for community and philanthropic activities is even better.

Hodges-Mace LLC, an Atlanta-based employee benefits firm, sets aside PTO for employees to spend on philanthropic efforts. Through the month of June, employees can spend a day working for a nonprofit. A calendar lists the opportunities available on specific days, the expected time commitment, the level of physical activity and whether employees' children can participate. "This allows employees to pick and choose what works for them," said Suzanne Sims Hough, the firm's CHRO. "Our goal is to make it as easy and convenient as possible."

2. Tie Activities to Work Skills

Corporate stewardship can be built around activities that are completely different from the work employees do every day, or they can have direct ties to employees' skills. Professional services firm EY takes the latter approach when it sends teams of 10 junior-level professionals to countries such as Mexico, Brazil and Costa Rica to work with and support a local entrepreneur for one week. One team worked with a nonprofit in Mexico that helps local farmers analyze the costs and benefits of their marketing and identify improvements.

The teams "deliver value to these communities using their professional skills," said Deborah K. Holmes, EY Americas' director of corporate responsibility in New York City. Employees "learn to work with people from very different backgrounds and experience the whole breadth of our firm in a way that junior professionals generally don't."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to the HR Discipline of Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability]

3. Create a Good Experience

For an employee to make a meaningful contribution, it's important to "tailor the opportunity and the experience to the [capabilities] of the participant," Holmes said. At the same time, employees should be exposed to new situations and challenges that they might not experience in their daily work lives, allowing them to expand their horizons personally and professionally.

Employers can work closely with participating nonprofits to make sure an event is well-organized and employees are assigned tasks and activities that are interesting and meaningful. Nothing dulls enthusiasm faster than standing around waiting for something to do.

To help avoid this, Hodges-Mace assigns team captains for each philanthropic activity. The captains help set up and manage the event. In addition to ensuring a good experience for participants, team captains can develop and improve their leadership skills.

The firm also communicates with each nonprofit after every event to discuss what went well and what can be done better the next year.

4. Make It Personal

Like most initiatives, stewardship programs may need to change over time. For many years, accounting firm Baker Tilly Virchow Krause gave employees a token gift at the end of each year, until someone questioned whether that money could be better spent. The firm funneled the money into a "three wishes" program that financially supports selected nonprofits' most pressing needs and donates 40 hours of work by the firm's professional staff.

Employees get involved by nominating organizations for these awards. "That's our secret sauce," said Karleen Mussman, the firm's CHRO in Chicago. "We focus on what matters to our employees and what they are passionate about."

Joanne Sammer is a New Jersey-based business and financial writer.

Related SHRM Articles:

How to Create Meaningful Volunteer Work at Work, HR Magazine, August 2016

The Benefits of Philanthropy and Volunteerism, SHRM Online, February 2016

Pitfalls of Employee Volunteerism and How to Avoid Them, SHRM Online, September 2013


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